The vast majority of Americans — 80 percent, to be specific — agree that our mental health has an impact on our physical health. However, far too many of us aren’t taking daily steps to ensure we’re as mentally in shape as we are physically.
It makes sense that mental health ends up on the back burner sometimes. It’s hard to keep on top of managing mental health when you’re busy taking care of everything and everyone. When the to-do list gets too crowded, our own well-being drops to the bottom.
That’s why it’s important to prioritize self-care. Self-care is about doing activities that you enjoy and that preserve your own health. These can be more involved, time-intensive activities like going to the gym three times a week or simple things like reading a book before bed, watching funny cat videos online or sticking to an 11 p.m. bedtime so that you wake up rested and ready to start your day. Find out what makes you feel good — about yourself and just in general — and set aside time every day or week to nurture it. Here are four ideas to get you started.
1. Make Time for Meditation
Meditation isn’t for everyone, but it helps some people find calm in the most hectic moments.
Start with just two minutes a day first thing in the morning, before the hectic pace of life gets in the way. Sit quietly and count your breaths. If you need a little help, try a mindfulness or meditation app. Along with affordable options with thousands of sessions available, some apps even offer dozens of free guided meditation sessions that can help you incorporate meditation into your weekly routine.
2. Take a Break From Social Media
Social media is an effective tool for staying connected, but it can also inundate us with images and posts that are more perception than reality. Studies have shown that limiting your social media use can reduce anxiety, depression and “fear of missing out.”
When we see image after image of someone’s “perfect” life, it can make us feel inadequate. Taking a break from this online fantasy to focus on building deeper offline connections — or reallocating the time you spend on Facebook and Instagram to other worthwhile activities — can positively affect your mental health. It may even give some time back to your schedule, given that adults spend an average of 45 minutes a day on social media.
3. Take a Vacation
As busy as your job is, chances are it has some built-in relaxation time. Alas, 52 percent of Americans don’t use all of their vacation days.
Whether you get one week or one month off, use it. Even if you can’t afford a luxurious vacation, take a staycation and act like a tourist in your own town. Many beaches are free, and museums often have reduced or free admission days. If you don’t like leaving the house, sleep in or spend your time off binge-watching your favorite shows.
Either way, use your vacation for self-care, to recharge and to reset your mind from the day-to-day stress that’s weighing you down.
4. See a Therapist or Doctor
Only 20 percent of Americans have ever sought help from a mental health professional, and nearly half of people say they wouldn’t be sure how to access mental health services if they ever needed them.
Your health plan likely covers mental health services, since federal parity laws require insurance companies to cover physical and mental health services the same way. If you’re unsure, call your insurer and read the description of benefits in your health plan. Also keep in mind that your physical health affects your mental health, too. If you’re dealing with a health condition that increases your anxiety or feelings of depression, then visit your primary care doctor to get evaluated.
Don’t feel you have time for all of these doctors’ visits? Some health plans also cover telemedicine services. If time is an issue, you can quickly and securely schedule a virtual visit with your doctor to get assessed, or just to get a referral to another provider — all without having to travel farther than your own couch.
Parting Thoughts: Making Time to Prioritize Your Mental Health
Managing mental health requires prioritization — even when life’s other obligations get in the way. So, set aside time for self-care. To start out, that could just mean giving yourself a few minutes to relax on a stressful day, but try to make it a regular part of your life.
Striking a balance between doing things that keep your life running smoothly — like getting up and going to work when your bed is dangerously comfy in the morning — and doing things that nurture your spirit — like coming home and recreating the cozy atmosphere you lost earlier with a soft blanket and a novelty mug of hot tea — helps lay the foundation for you to improve your mental health.